Saturday, September 3, 2011
Finally, A Face To Go With The Story
Esther's mother Elke Belinki Hochfeld (originally Gauchfeld or Gokhfeld) is the sister of my great-great-grandfather Abram Belinki. While researching the Hochfeld (sometimes spelled Hochfield) family in the hopes of finding clues about my Belinki bloodline I've gotten in touch with several Hochfeld cousins. I learned the names and dates, found census records and ship manifests, photographed headstones, and picked up a few tidbits of stories along the way. I first heard about Esther about 4 years ago. Both Esther and her brother Max worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Thanks to the Cornell University online exhibit at http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/ commemorating the fire I confirmed that Esther was a victim of the fire (I also have her death certificate). Max's recorded testimony of the event is part of the exhibit. According to Max, he ran down the stairs at the end of the workday not even knowing anything was wrong until he got down to the street. Esther had waited for the elevator on the 9th floor where the fire claimed most of its victims. The only reason Max & Esther were working on the 9th floor that day was because they didn't get to work as early as usual...they were up late the night before celebrating Esther's engagement.
None of us could imagine Esther's suffering. I'd stare at the photos of Triangle Factory workers posted online and wonder if she was in any of them. With the 100th anniversary of the fire this past March I was searching online for any new information. I was in touch with one of the organizers of the anniversary memorials and knew that he was trying to get a photo of Esther from Max's daughter, the keeper of the family photos. All of my searching yielded nothing. Today I googled the name "George Hochfield", Max's son, and found this: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/triangle-fire-clinging-to-scraps-of-memories/ . I'm not sure why this didn't come up in my searches earlier this year or, if it did, why I didn't notice it. George is quoted in the post, alongside a photo of Esther. Finally, a face to go with the story! The family records I've found are important but this photo means so much more. It's not that I was close to my Hochfeld cousins, I didn't even know they existed until a few years ago, but Esther stood out because of her story. It's so nice to see her beautiful face, sad too though because now I can picture her in the factory that day.